We’ve started to experience weather on our trip. There have been multiple nights with freezing temperatures and our first rain in Virginia. But that’s not the only storm we have weathered. I’m always encouraged to post the bright, pretty pictures of our trip. Looking at the beauty of what we’re experiencing is sort of a coping mechanism for what we’re experiencing. When I look at pretty pictures I know there’s a back story. I’ve done enough family photo shoots to know that one picture with eyes open, smile/ no smile, pre-tears is worth a thousand hours. Our family is no exception.
I hope you know we miss home often. We wonder in exasperation why we’re doing whatever it is that day. Everyone has thrown a temper tantrum. Most of us have cried (I’ll let you guess who still has dry eyes although we may push him to the point). We argue. We have the normal navigational “discussions” that happen to husbands and wives across the globe. There have been heels dug, food thrown, feelings hurt and words misunderstood.
We are learning to get past the stormy weather and fixing our eyes on the sun. We are not a perfect, happy go lucky family. But we are scrappers out here on the road, doing what we can to make it work. For every sunny landscape you see, you miss the family at the rest stop gathering themselves. For every close up shot of moss or a rock or a leaf, you don’t see alligator tears or a timeout or a giant dent in the fender of the car. It’s hard to see the forest through the trees, but you just keep driving.
As we sat around the table in New Orleans, we talked about Aunt Sara’s bike ride up The Natchez Trace. We hadn’t really known or considered what it was. We started to hear a lot of good things about the drive and we were pretty sure that the north eastern part of our trip was about to be scrapped, so we decided to check it out.
Mississipi was stunning. In so many ways untouched by time. We found many little backroad towns with long ago forgotten buildings just waiting for someone to find. Plantation homes in the middle of nowhere. Kind people everywhere. And the discovery of so many unlikely foods at the grocery store. Cinnamon sugar butter, y’all. Grits. And we made campfire ribs.
The Natchez Trace is a national park. It was probably the first substantial trade route in the US. It was important for Native Americans as well as settlers, trappers and traders in later years. The trace was so well traveled that the footpath is still visible throughout the park. It was also used to relocate the Cherokee Indians from their land as part of the Trail of Tears.
The parkway is 444 miles from north to south (or south to north in our case) running from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. We camped in state parks (Natchez State Park and Tishomingo State Park) along the route. We took a nice side trip to the civil war battlefield in Vicksburg, and to an important civil rights stop for us at Ole Miss in Oxford. And we saw Aunt Sara on her ride!
We were scrambling to find an affordable place to stay in Nashville and opted for the suburb of Brentwood. Still we were ten minutes from downtown and all the action. We caught lunch in a dead bar in broad daylight. As our luck would have it we were the only patrons so the talent played to our every whim. Which apparently was not country music. He was pretty great. Against my better judgement we went to the Country Music Hall of Fame (the Dylan/ Cash exhibit was amazing) and added the Hatch Show Print tour. Hatch was hands down my favorite thing I’ve ever seen. Almost better than Mississippi. It is a terribly old letterpress operation that has produced show posters for all the greats in Nashville and so many more. So cool.
We are leaving for the Great Smoky Mountains which we think will lead us to Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway, possibly Shenandoah and then Washington D.C. where we will settle in for a bit. The weather is getting cooler and I expect that we will test our fortitude in the pop up trailer as the nights get colder. We were spoiled by all that warm weather in the deep south. Until next week…
The second leg of our trip taught us a thing or two. For one, we are not ambitious travelers. If you saw our original map, just throw it out. Because, seriously, we are in a pop up camper. Two weeks in and we know that we are not going to go to all that trouble for one night. Plus we are sick to death of the boys asking if they can stop to see something and (we say no because…) we are worried about how we are going to set up camp before dark. Those days are gone. We are ready to explore where we are and hang out for a bit.
And, another thing. We had very little time to spend in Oklahoma. We would have liked to stop and visit, but as our navigation tells us – proceed to the route. We spent some time at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. It was heavy and really affected the boys. I was affected. To tears. It just brought back so many memories of the children who were lost. It was a beautiful memorial. But. It’s good to remember that kids can only handle so much. We will pass on some other memorials until the boys are ready to take on the sadness of those places. They understood and took in more than we expected.
One of the great highlights of this last week were all of the new to us animals we encountered in Texas. Let’s just say that armadillos are at the top of our list of wacky, fun to observe creatures. They make so much noise. Like a bear in the woods kind of noise. All they are doing is looking for bugs in the underbrush. They were totally oblivious and not at all concerned with us.
We are nine states in (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana) and 3,000 miles. Things are coming together. We are learning to work things out on the fly because there’s nowhere to hide. No room for bad feelings. These guys I’m traveling with are top notch. We are in New Orleans for a few days and then we will follow the Natchez Trace Parkway from Mississippi to Tennessee.
We made it through the first leg of our trip – Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska. We rolled into Sheridan, WY late and set up camp in the dark. For our wedding we registered at REI. We always imagined that we would back pack our way around the world. Then we had children, and we imagined that we would car camp around the world. Then they got cold. So we got a pop up camper. Not at all something we pictured ourselves in on our wedding day. Yet, here we are traveling the country. Back to Sheridan, we camped in a KOA. First timers. We cooked outside by ourselves, while everyone else in that place lit up their rigs and fired up their generators. I’m a person who has learned never to say never. Just consider my mind totally blown.
We chose this crazy rinky dink route around Grand Teton and Yellowstone because of driving time…and also one of the kids was dying to see Devil’s Tower National Monument. So, we said goodbye to Sheridan and made our way to North Eastern Wyoming. Devil’s Tower is spectacular. We used our expeditionary learning skills to explore a new to us place. We observed the “tower”, we wondered how it was formed and then we learned as much as anyone can in a few short hours. We hiked and thought about Mr. Doug and the belay contract as we heard real life climbers yelling, “On Belay. Belay On.”
That night we slept in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which led to the Mammoth Excavation site in Hot Springs. Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska. Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse in Paxton, Nebraska. And a real bed in North Platte. We budgeted for a hotel/ motel stay every third day so we can shower, launder and shop. We took Hwy 34 that runs north of I-80 all the way to Malcolm, Nebraska and Aunt Bonnie. You really see a lot more on the less traveled road. And more tractors. And corn.